The West, Texas chemical and fertilizer plant where at least 15 were killed and more than 200 injured a few weeks ago hadn’t been fully inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. (A partial inspection in 2011 had resulted in $5,250 in fines.)
OSHA and its state partners have a total of 2,200 inspectors charged with ensuring the safety of over more than 8 million workplaces employing 130 million workers. That comes to about one inspector for every 59,000 American workers.
There’s no way it can do its job with so few resources, but OSHA has been systematically hollowed out for years under Republican administrations and congresses that have despised the agency since its inception.
In effect, much of our nation’s worker safety laws and rules have been quietly repealed because there aren’t enough inspectors to enforce them.
That’s been the Republican strategy in general: When they can’t directly repeal laws they don’t like, they repeal them indirectly by hollowing them out — denying funds to fully implement them, and reducing funds to enforce them.
Consider taxes. Republicans have been unable to round up enough votes to cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy as much as they’d like, so what do they do? They’re hollowing out the IRS. As they cut its enforcement budget – presto! — tax collections decline.
Despite an increasing number of billionaires and multi-millionaires using every tax dodge imaginable – laundering their money through phantom corporations and tax havens (Remember Mitt’s tax returns?) — the IRS’s budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation.
To manage the $594.5 million in additional cuts required by the sequester, the agency has announced it will furlough each of its more than 89,000 employees for at least five days this year.
This budget stinginess doesn’t save the government money. Quite the opposite. Less IRS enforcement means less revenue. It’s been estimated that every dollar invested in the IRS’s enforcement, modernization and management system, reduces the federal budget deficit by $200, and that furloughing 1,800 IRS “policemen” will cost the Treasury $4.5 billion in lost revenue.
But congressional Republicans aren’t interested in more revenue. Their goal is to cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy.
Representative Charles Boustany, the Louisiana Republican who heads the House subcommittee overseeing the IRS, says the IRS sequester cuts should stay in force. He calls for an overhaul of the tax code instead.
In a similar manner, congressional Republicans and their patrons on Wall Street who opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform law have been hollowing out the law by making sure agencies charged with implementing it don’t have the funds they need to do the job.
As a result, much of Dodd-Frank – including the so-called “Volcker Rule” restrictions on the kind of derivatives trading that got the Street into trouble in the first place – is still on the drawing boards.
Perhaps more than any other law, Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Yet despite holding more than 33 votes to repeal it, they still haven’t succeeded.
So what do they do? Try to hollow it out. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly denied funding requests to implement Obamacare, leaving Health and Human Services (the agency charged with designing the rules under the Act and enforcing them) so shorthanded it has to delay much of it.
Even before the sequester, the agency was running on the same budget it had before Obamacare was enacted. Now it’s lost billions more.
A new insurance marketplace specifically for small business, for example, was supposed to be up and running in January. But officials now say it won’t be available until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government will be running insurance markets known as exchanges.
This is a potentially large blow to Obamacare’s political support. A major selling point for the legislation had been providing affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees.
Yes, and eroding political support is exactly what congressional Republicans want. They fear that Obamacare, once fully implemented, will be too popular to dismantle. So they’re out to delay it as long as possible while keeping up a drumbeat about its flaws.
Repealing laws by hollowing them out — failing to fund their enforcement or implementation — works because the public doesn’t know it’s happening. Enactment of a law attracts attention; de-funding it doesn’t.
The strategy also seems to bolster the Republican view that government is incompetent. If government can’t do what it’s supposed to do – keep workplaces safe, ensure that the rich pay taxes they owe, protect small investors, implement Obamacare – why give it any additional responsibility?
The public doesn’t know the real reason why the government isn’t doing its job is it’s being hollowed out.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 4, 2013
“Accidental Disclosure”: Aetna Shareholders “Dismayed” Over Company Donations To Anti-Obamacare Campaigns
A group of Aetna shareholders is challenging the health insurer for donating to the American Action Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — two organizations dedicated to undermining Obamacare.
Aetna donated over $7 million to the two groups during the Democrats’ effort to enact health care reform, though the contributions did not become public until this year, when the company accidentally “made the disclosure in a year-end regulatory filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.”
In a letter to Aetna on Monday, the shareholders claim that the company did not comply with disclosure policies or inform its investors about the donations:
“We believe Aetna is not in compliance with its corporate political and lobbying disclosure policy, a policy which we negotiated and expected would be met in spirit and in letter,” read the Monday letter to Aetna CEO and President Mark Bertolini from Mercy Investment Services Inc. and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, two Catholic groups with investments in Aetna. [...]
But in their recent complaint to Aetna, the Catholic investors point to a 2007 letter of agreement in which Aetna promised shareholders that it would disclose all expenditures for lobbying and political purposes, as well as trade association payments and grass-roots spending. The Aetna policy followed a 2006 shareholder resolution calling for the company to disclose its political spending.
“We, investors, withdrew the resolution in good faith expecting that the resolution establishing oversight and transparency would be followed, revised as best practices evolved and in place for reference by the members of the committee preparing the annual reports,” read the letter. In an interview, Sister Valerie Heinonen, one of the letter’s authors, said investors were “dismayed” that the agreed-on policy had not been followed.
Aetna maintains that it intended the funds to be used for educational purposes, yet both the American Action Network and the Chamber are still fighting reform. Just days after the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the law, AAN announced a $1.2 million advertising campaign urging Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, July 14, 2012
People always say good health is the greatest gift, so let’s make health a priority this Mother’s Day. Now that I am a mother myself, I am even more appreciative that I have health insurance that covers the care I need. All moms deserve the kind of quality, affordable care that I was lucky enough to receive while pregnant and postpartum, and Obamacare is working to make that dream a reality.
While pregnant, what did I need the most—that is, besides a foot massage? Maternity care, of course. My prenatal visits reassured me that my pregnancy was progressing as it should and my insurance allowed me to use the provider of my choosing, labor in the setting I wanted, and get the emergency care I ultimately needed. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of plans in the individual health insurance market currently offer maternity coverage. Thankfully, starting in 2014, Obamacare will require all new health plans to cover maternity care as the essential health service that it is.
Needing an emergency C-section was the first sign that I was no longer calling the shots. It’s fine if my son has his own plans, but not the insurance industry. Insurers currently can deny women coverage for specific health services or entire plans due to gender-related “pre-existing conditions” such as Cesarean sections, breast cancer, domestic violence, and sexual assault. The idea that my surgery could disqualify me from obtaining coverage on the open insurance market is both absurd and deeply offensive. But this discriminatory practice becomes illegal under Obamacare in 2014.
After my son was born, my pediatrician’s office began to feel like a second home with the amount of time I had to spend there his first year. I am lucky enough to have a low co-pay that I can afford, but for far too many families those co-pays are not just a minor inconvenience. Obamacare ensures that families can afford to bring their children in for vaccinations and other routine visits by eliminating cost sharing, such as co-pays or deductibles, for well-baby and well-child care.
Whoever said breastfeeding comes naturally? Like so many of my peers, I was surprised to encounter all sorts of difficulties with nursing. I relied heavily on my local breastfeeding center to help me diagnose and address the problems I had, an expensive but incredibly helpful service. Had I not been able to afford those hefty out-of-pocket fees, there is no way I could have continued nursing my son, providing him with valuable antibodies and nutrients and strengthening the mother-child bond. The good news is that this August, nursing mothers in new health insurance plans will receive no-cost coverage for lactation supports that include counseling and equipment.
Nursing moms who return to work also will benefit, as I did, from the requirement that large employers provide breaks and a private space for expressing breast milk. I was very thankful for this provision, especially when I heard the horror stories of women who were forced to pump in a bathroom stall or in their cars—or those who were fired for requesting pumping breaks. With such obstacles in place, it is no wonder that only 36 percent of U.S. infants are breastfed past six months, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing through the first year. Obamacare should help that rate finally improve.
Despite these amazing benefits and more, the health reform law is under siege. It risks being overturned by the Supreme Court or repealed by conservative politicians. This Mother’s Day, let’s give moms a gift that is truly important and will really last. Let’s do everything we can to make sure Obamacare is fully implemented and remains the law of the land.
By: Jessica Arons, Center For American Progress, May 11, 2012
In arguments before the Supreme Court this week, the Obama administration might have done just enough to keep the Affordable Care Act from being ruled unconstitutional. Those who believe in limited government had better hope so, at least.
If Obamacare is struck down, the short-term implications are uncertain. Conservatives may be buoyed by an election-year victory; progressives may be energized by a ruling that looks more political than substantive. The long-term consequences, however, are obvious: Sooner or later, a much more far-reaching overhaul of the health-care system will be inevitable.
To say the least, the three days of oral argument before the high court did not unfold the way many experts had expected. Confident predictions that the administration would prevail by a lopsided margin became inoperative as soon as the justices began pummeling Solicitor General Donald Verrilli with pointed questions.
At one point Wednesday, as the barrage was winding down, Chief Justice John Roberts told Verrilli he could have an extra 15 minutes to argue a point. Verrilli replied, “Lucky me.”
In the end, however, Verrilli gave the skeptical justices what they were looking for: a limiting principle that allows them, should they choose, to defer to Congress and uphold the law.
At the heart of the legislation is the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a fine. It became clear by their questioning that the court’s five conservatives — including Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote who sometimes crosses the ideological divide and votes with the liberals — see this mandate as a significant expansion of the federal government’s reach and authority.
Verrilli argued that the mandate is permissible under the clause of the Constitution giving the government the power to regulate interstate commerce. Justices demanded a limiting principle: Where does this authority end? If the government can compel a citizen to buy health insurance, why can’t it compel the purchase of other things?
Justice Antonin Scalia raised the specter of an all-powerful government that could even “make people buy broccoli” if it wished. Scalia’s mind seemed to be made up, but Kennedy seemed to be genuinely looking for a principle that permitted a health insurance mandate but not a broccoli mandate.
And Verrilli gave him one. The market for health insurance is inseparable from the market for health care, he argued, and every citizen is a consumer of health care. Those who choose not to buy health insurance require health care anyway — often expensive care at hospital emergency rooms — and these costs are borne by the rest of us in the form of higher premiums.
I think Verrilli made his case. The court is supposed to begin with the assumption that laws passed by Congress are constitutional. Justices don’t have to like the Affordable Care Act in order to decide that it should remain in effect. If some members of the court think they could do better, maybe they should quit and run for legislative office.
But it’s going to be a close call. What if they strike down the law?
The immediate impact will be the human toll. More than 30 million uninsured Americans who would have obtained coverage under Obamacare will be bereft. Other provisions of the law, such as forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions and allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ policies, presumably would also be invalidated; if not, they would have to be modified to keep insurance rates from climbing sharply. The United States would remain the only wealthy industrialized country where getting sick can mean going bankrupt.
Eventually, however, our health-care system will be restructured. It has to be. The current fee-for-service paradigm, with doctors and hospitals being paid through for-profit insurance companies, is needlessly inefficient and ruinously expensive.
When people talk about out-of-control government spending, they’re really talking about rising medical costs that far outpace any conceivable rate of economic growth. The conservative solution — shift those costs to the consumer — is no solution at all.
Our only choice is to try to hold the costs down. President Obama tried to make a start with a modest approach that works through the current system. If this doesn’t pass constitutional muster, the obvious alternative is to emulate other industrialized nations that deliver equal or better health-care outcomes for half the cost.
I’m talking about a single-payer health-care system. If the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare, a single-payer system will go from being politically impossible to being, in the long run, fiscally inevitable.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 29, 20122